Tobacco banned in Kannapolis parks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS – Starting March 1, when you go to concerts or your kids’ play dates in Kannapolis’ parks, you’ll have to leave your smokes, dip and chew at home.
At Monday’s meeting, Kannapolis City Council members unanimously voted to ban tobacco use of any kind in city parks in a little less than two months.
But council members acknowledged the ban might be unpopular with many, and difficult to enforce.
Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills said the ban has been a long time coming.
Mills, who spoke of losing two grandparents to smoking-related illnesses, said there was no need to remind council members of the dangers of tobacco use, especially cigarette smoking.
“There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” Mills said.
And Mills said attempts to create designated smoking areas at Village Park, home of the city’s summer events series, had failed.
Many disregarded the designated areas, resulting in complaints.
And litter is a constant issue, Mills added.
“In one day at the playground at Village Park, we pick up over 30 cigarette butts,” Mills said.
The total ban on tobacco, Mills said, will help bring Kannapolis in line with other municipalities, including Cabarrus County’s parks system and parks in nearby cities like Harrisburg.
“This is the time that we need to join in with the rest of our county,” he said.
Councilman Tom Kincaid asked Mills how a smoking ban could be enforced at events which draw thousands of spectators.
Mills said that was the reason for allowing two months before the ban goes into effect.
He said new signs and other efforts will educate visitors about the tobacco ban well in advance of the summer’s events.
Mills also said Parks and Recreation staff are being trained on how to courteously remind patrons of the new policy.
Though Kincaid said he hated to vote for more restrictions on citizens, he was in favor of the ban and recognized it’s in line with public health laws statewide.
“There’ll be some kicking and screaming for sure,” Kincaid said. “We’re going to hear about it.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs asked how the new policy would affect city employees who smoke. At other facilities, employees are allowed to smoke outdoors as long as they’re 50 feet from buildings.
But Parks and Recreation employees won’t have that option.
City Manager Mike Legg said the city is using a more proactive approach to encourage employees to quit smoking.
At some point, Legg said, there may be monetary consequences for smokers covered on the city’s health plan.
Mills acknowledged that there are some smokers among his employees at Parks and Recreation.
“They have been made fully aware of the potential ordinance … and they recognize the value of it, as far as our patrons go,” Mills said.
Councilman Roger Haas said the ban “makes us nice and politically correct,” and said he was only supporting it because it would help prevent littering.
But Haas predicted the new ordinance will be “an enforcement nightmare.”
In related news, a revised set of rules governing burials at the Kannapolis cemetery, adjacent to Village Park downtown, passed unanimously after a brief discussion.
The revised policies no longer prohibit Sunday burials at the historic cemetery, which has been officially closed since the 1940s but still sees several burials a month as plots sold long ago are used.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

In other action
In other business before the Kannapolis City Council:
•  Members heard an update on the Center City Master Plan from Planning Director Kris Krider and Irene Sacks, Director of Business and Community Affairs.
Krider said discussions with the city’s Center City Master Plan committee have yielded ideas and possible directions for the future.
“Each meeting is a little bit of progress … We’re really starting to feel things coming together as far as what our vision for downtown is,” Krider said.
Challenges include discovering ways to build traffic flow downtown in an effort to lure more businesses.
Other ideas for jump-starting downtown include working to reduce the speed limit on Dale Earnhardt Boulevard and Loop road.
And potential lease agreements with Castle & Cooke – the David Murdock-owned company which is downtown’s largest single landowner – may allow use of some land for recreation and parking.
Sacks discussed ways that Concord’s downtown development corporation helps spur activity in that city.
She also noted that, though there is much more activity in downtown Concord, the rent rates there are about the same in Kannapolis — around $10 per square foot per month, on average.
•  Public Works Director Wilmer Melton discussed the city’s upcoming “e-waste” recycling event and ways that the city can help residents recycle broken or unwanted electronics.
Melton said that the kickoff of the city’s curbside recycling program last July had increased awareness of recycling.
But, Melton said, a problem remains because old televisions, computers and other electronics cannot be recycled at curbside.
Since all electronics are now banned from N.C. landfills, Melton said, many of these items are being dumped on vacant lots or abandoned at recycling sites.
Taxpayers bear the burden of cleaning up those items when others dump them, Melton said.
He estimated that eight to 10 televisions a week are abandoned at the city’s self-service recycling site.
Council members voted unanimously to direct Melton to explore a regular option for helping citizens recycle their electronics.